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The Spear

Storytelling Podcasts

The Spear is a podcast from the Modern War Institute at West Point. It aims to explore the combat experience, with each episode featuring a guest who tells a detailed and personal story, describing the events and exploring topics like decision-making under stress and what it feels like to be in combat.

The Spear is a podcast from the Modern War Institute at West Point. It aims to explore the combat experience, with each episode featuring a guest who tells a detailed and personal story, describing the events and exploring topics like decision-making under stress and what it feels like to be in combat.


United States


The Spear is a podcast from the Modern War Institute at West Point. It aims to explore the combat experience, with each episode featuring a guest who tells a detailed and personal story, describing the events and exploring topics like decision-making under stress and what it feels like to be in combat.




A Bad Day in the Arizona Territory

In 1962, while on a year-long break from college, Barry Broman was first shot at in South Vietnam while working as a photographer for the Associated Press. Seven years later, he arrived in I Corps, the northernmost part of South Vietnam, as a Marine infantry officer in Company H, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (H/2/5), which was operating in an area known as the Arizona Territory. Not far from the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the Arizona Territory was a vast expanse of villages patently hostile to...


On the Banks of the Kunar River

In this episode Maj. John A. Meyer shares a story from his first deployment, in 2007, to Afghanistan. On July 27, his platoon and a group of Afghan National Army soldiers were moving along the road next to the Kunar River during a squadron mission to secure the valley. The Afghan soldiers began to cross a bridge when they looked down and saw a group of enemy fighters. The massive fight that ensued would involve the other platoons of Meyer's B Troop, as well—matched up against an enemy force...


Walking the Beat in Baghdad

In the second episode in a two-part series, Misty Cantwell recounts the ongoing combat operations she conducted in Sadr City, Iraq, in 2003. A military police platoon leader, her sense of the political fragility of the nation was brought home after two bombings targeting the Baghdad headquarters of the United Nations assistance mission occurred. Cantwell reflects on the vagueness of American counterinsurgency efforts in and around Baghdad as 2003 turned into 2004. Assigned to help rebuild...


Black Hawk Into The Fight

In this episode, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Joe Roland joins to share a story from 2004. A UH-60 Black Hawk pilot, his aircraft and another were supporting an Army Special Forces team in search of a group of enemy combatants in Afghanistan's northern Kandahar province. As soon as his helicopter landed to drop off a US soldier and two Afghans to take up an overwatch position, they saw enemy fighters approaching the position. He made a decision to hover his aircraft between the enemy fighters and...


MPs in Baghdad

In 2003, just months after graduating from West Point, Misty Cantwell was a military police platoon leader waiting to cross the border into Iraq. Arriving after the main invasion, Cantwell’s platoon was assigned to Sadr City, a restive neighborhood in Baghdad. Initially arriving in Iraq in soft-skinned vehicles without modern body armor, Cantwell was soon immersed in the rising anti-coalition violence that summer. In this episode, she shares the story of her role in the response to an attack...


Reflections on Being First In

We are now twenty-one years past the events of 9/11. America's war in Afghanistan has come to an end yet the repercussions of that day and that war continue to impact foreign policy, strategic positioning, and the lives of those who were there. That makes now an important time to reflect on our Afghanistan experience. Retired Special Forces soldier Scott Neil was one of the first Americans into Afghanistan after 9/11 and his perspective helps shed light on those crucial early days.


Patrolling the Seam

In 2012, Sean Marquis was an infantry platoon leader—deployed to Dehqobad, Afghanistan—with a Stryker brigade. The boundary between the platoon's area of responsibility and that of an adjacent unit was a suspected transit route due—US force in the area called it the seam. As villages along the Arghandab River became increasingly restive, Sean set out to find a Taliban recoilless rifle known to be in the area. After reviewing the available information, Sean narrowed in on a nearby orchard as...


Joint SOF in Name Only

In the summer of 1993, Greg Banner was a newly appointed company commander in 10th Special Forces Group. Halfway around the world, ethnic tensions were flaring in the former Yugoslavia. The Cold War had ended but the need for special operations forces in Europe was made apparent as the nation disintegrated into warring states. With only a few weeks’ notice, Banner and his company deployed. Once on the ground, he realized that there existed a complex and confusing command model that...


Marine Platoon in Baghdad

In the previous episode of The Spear, Karl Blanke shared a story that featured the actions of one of his former Marines, Lance Corporal Jackson (a pseudonym). “Jackson” was a machine gunner in the 1st Marine Division and took part in the march to Baghdad in 2003, where he was wounded in a firefight and awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device for his actions. In this episode, we hear the story from Jackson's perspective.


A Machine Gunner on the March Up

In 2003, after completing the march up to Baghdad in dramatic fashion, and after an all-night gunfight to seize one of Saddam’s palaces, the Marines of Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment were immediately sent to capture Baath officials suspected to be in a neighborhood nearby. A platoon commanded by Karl Blanke established a cordon and began searching house by house for their targets with little to go on beyond a set of grid coordinates. As the search continued, the cordon came...


Platoon Leader in Vietnam

Few books have had the impact on generations of young soldiers as Jim McDonough’s Platoon Leader: A Memoir of Command in Combat. First published in the mid-1980s, Platoon Leader remains on military reading lists worldwide and is still included in curriculum for junior officers and NCOs across the joint and combined force. Detailing the events that shaped Jim’s life as a young lieutenant in the 173rd Airborne Brigade in South Vietnam, Platoon Leader is a tale of leadership, followership, and...


Spectre in the Air

In August 2007, a US Army Special Forces team came under fire while passing through a valley in Afghanistan. The call for support went to a nearby base, where an AC-130H Spectre gunship crew was standing by. The crew quickly launched, and shortly later, the aircraft was overhead. This is the type of job the AC-130H was designed for. In the hours that followed, they engaged enemy targets a number of times with both a 40-millimeter cannon and a 105-millimeter howitzer. Lt. Col. Michael Murphy...


Attack at Hiep Hoa

A newly minted Special Forces officer in the spring of 1966, Mike Eiland landed in Vietnam and joined 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). A team leader, Mike and his team were tasked with reestablishing a Special Forces camp at Hiep Hoa, where a previous camp had been overrun in November 1963. On May 12, 1966, less than six weeks after Mike arrived in Vietnam, the camp was attacked. The ensuing fight was a close-run affair with Viet Cong soldiers breaching the Special Forces team's living...


Leaving Afghanistan

In the late summer of 2021, after years of service to his country—including four years at the United States Military Academy—Major Naqib Mirzada, an Afghan National Army Special Forces officer, and his family fled Afghanistan after the Taliban's seizure of Kabul. Arriving at Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 15, amid the US-led coalition's withdrawal from the country, Naqib and his family spent several grueling days trying to escape. On this episode, he tells the story of those...


Taking the Wrong Trail

In 2012, Rich Kent was a platoon leader deployed to Panjwai in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. Tasked with locating an IED cell in a small village just outside his normal area of operations, Kent was leading his platoon along a trail after receiving a tip about the location of Taliban fighters. After inadvertently drifting onto a different trail less traveled, Kent was reorienting his soldiers toward their target building when he stepped on an IED. He joins this episode to tell the story.


SAM Killer Above the No-Fly Zone

In 1998, retired US Air Force Colonel Mike "Starbaby" Pietrucha was an electronic warfare officer flying in an F-15E Strike Eagle, enforcing the northern no-fly zone over Iraq in the 1990s. In this episode, he brings listeners into the cockpit as he describes one particular mission during that deployment, when his aircraft was targeted by a radar guidance system for an SA-3 antiair missile. Not long after, the Iraqi surface-to-air missile was headed his way. After some rather hasty...


Dilemma on Route Mariners

Before his NFL career, Alejandro Villanueva was a rifle platoon leader in the 10th Mountain Division. During a deployment to an especially restive sector near Kandahar, Afghanistan, his unit faced heightened security challenges due to a prison break that freed a large number of Taliban fighters. But Villanueva also had to contend with a unique dilemma: after a member of the Afghan National Police accompanying his platoon opened fire on an approaching motorcycle, they lost sight of the...


Training Civilians for War in Ukraine

As Ukrainian troops continue to fight against invading Russian forces, they are supported by a growing cadre of civilians. Many among this group, however, have no training or experience. Matt Gallagher, a former US Army officer and veteran of Iraq, recently returned from training some of those civilians in Lviv. In this episode, Gallagher talks about his decision to travel to Ukraine, the differences between his experiences as an officer in Iraq and as a private citizen in Ukraine, the...


Armor in Ramadi, Part 2

In the second episode in a two-part series, Dan Gade joins The Spear to tell the story of his 2004 deployment to Ramadi, Iraq. After his unit suffered the deaths of two soldiers—the difficulty of which he discussed in the previous episode—his company continued to engage in frequent and heavy action with insurgents. But as coalition forces began to adopt a population-centric approach to providing security, Dan and his company found themselves increasingly conducting missions without the...


Armor in Ramadi, Part 1

In 2004, Dan Gade’s armor company took over a sector of Ramadi, Iraq, then the heart of the Sunni insurgency. Within days, his unit suffered its first fatality. As a company commander, Gade had the responsibility to lead his troops back outside the wire the next day regardless of the emotional toll Tyler’s death might have taken. In the first episode of a two-part series, Gade describes how his company continued to patrol, taking contact from enemy forces nearly daily.